Sep 01 2012


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The Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians

(Part 4)

E- Interpretation of the Epistle

Chapter 2 (contd.)

4- Paul’s outreach and promise to send Timothy (Philippians 2:19-24)

Paul considered it insufficient to send a letter to the Church that he loved, urging obedience to the commandment, conduct in love, humility and unity, and completion of salvation; rather, he follows up by speedily sending Timothy, the disciple dedicated to evangelizing the Gospel.  The Philippians knew how Timothy served with Paul, as a son would with his father.  Looking around him, Timothy was the only trustworthy person who could take care of the Church’s affairs, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:21) Paul is hopeful to send Timothy at the earliest possible opportunity, in order to allay his worries with respect to the Philippians’ general state of affairs.  He adds that, despite his difficult circumstances, he hopes to see them in person (he was unable to realize this wish despite his resolve).

Since his meeting with Paul in Lystra (Acts 16:1), Timothy became Paul’s constant and close companion, his spiritual son in the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:17), and a person always willing to carry out anything entrusted to him.  He accompanied St. Paul to Philippi (Acts 16:3), Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 17:1-15, 18:5 and 19:21, 22).  Timothy was also with St. Paul in the Roman jail, co-authored with him no less than five epistles: 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and Philippians, and sent his greetings along with St. Paul’s, to the loved ones in Rome, in St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans (Romans 16:21).  Additionally, for Paul’s peace of mind with respect to the various churches which he had founded, he sent Timothy to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:6), to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17 and 16:10 & 11), and to Philippi (as mentioned above).  We also know that, finally, Timothy was jailed for Christ’s sake (Hebrews 13:23)


5- Epaphroditus relays the message (Philippians 2:25-30)

The last words in this chapter tell us a very touching story.  Epaphroditus used to serve with St. Paul in Philippi; so when the Philippians heard of St. Paul’s imprisonment, they were moved by their strong emotions towards him to send Epaphroditus, not only to offer Paul gifts, but also to stay with him during this hardship.  The faithful disciple therefore undertook the arduous journey, from Philippi to Rome, covering hundreds of miles by land and sea.  He finally made it to St. Paul’s side in jail, and conveyed to him the Philippians’ heartfelt greetings, including his own.  Although Epaph­roditus was determined to remain with St. Paul in jail, he was taken violently ill and almost lost his life; this was cause for great concern and grief among the Philippians and St. Paul himself, until he recovered and was back on his feet.  As soon as he had regained his strength, St. Paul decided to send him back quickly to his people: to return their salutations with their faithful servant, to soothe them after having significantly worried about his health, and to comfort them with respect to his own state.  He describes Epaphroditus as “….my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need…”(Philippians 2:25)  St. Paul also instructs them with respect to Epaphroditus’ well-being: “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.” [meaning that he made up for the Church’s inability to stand by him during his imprisonment, awaiting death] (Philippians 2:29 & 30)

St. Paul was never fixated on his plight, sufferings, imprisonment, and death which ultimately awaited him.  He was continually preoccupied, not only with his service which extended over two continents, but also with his aids, taking care to treat them well and give them adequate support, while exhorting the con­gregations concerning their well-being, and praying for their growth and edification in the Faith.  We see in St. Paul a wonderful, loving heart, embodying sublime emotions; we see in him the ability, granted by the Holy Spirit, to transcend above his personal cares and anxieties, and to focus solely on the glory of Christ, and on the health of his evangelization, following his motto: “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)


Chapter 3

1- Exhortation to joy (Philippians 3:1)

St. Paul appreciates the hardships which believers endure amidst the non-believers’ resistance, be they Jews or Gentiles, not to mention the continuous warfare which Satan wages, both from within and without.  Nevertheless, he urges the Philippians to remain steadfast, and to “rejoice in the Lord.”  He also stresses that his repeating the same message is not tedious for him, but it serves to edify their faith.  The source of this joy is the Holy Spirit Whom the Lord sent: “….but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:22)  Since this joy is “in the Lord,” it is firm and lasting, despite the surrounding adversity: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)  The intent of “joy” in this context is not physical happiness and merriment; rather, confidence and trust in God, that He will not abandon us.  This, in turn, grants unshaken inner peace, despite the hardships.


2- Judging the opponents and defending his service (Philippians 3:2-4)

Here, we see a change in the course of St. Paul’s discourse.  There is mention of those who obstruct the work of God, and resist propagation of the Faith.  There are still some who call for adherence to the Mosaic Law, or who preach that salvation is not for the Gentiles.  St. Paul is thus filled with holy anger and says, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of mutilation!” (Philippians 3:2)  In those days (and until now in some countries), dogs (or swine) were not a pleasing symbol: they are stray, filthy, and feed on refuse – mentioning them, therefore, carried contemptuous overtones.  Hence, David told king Saul who was chasing him, “After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog?” (1 Samuel 24:14); also, the Lord said, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine ….” (Matthew 7:6)  Furthermore, we read in the Book of Revelation, that outside the gates of the holy city are “dogs (in symbolic sense) and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” (Revelation 22:15)

St. Paul’s reference to the Gentiles here is not in the same sense that Jews referred to them; rather, he meant the opposite: those who deserved this title are the Jews who falsify the truth, resist people’s salvation, and attribute God’s son-ship solely to themselves, despite their immersion in evil, and their entire dependence on their physical son-ship to Abraham.  In this regard, the Baptist tells them: “… God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:9)  They felt that circumcision was sufficient, although this was not God’s intent: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter …” (Romans 2:28,29)

In this chapter, as well as in his epistle to the Romans, St. Paul is alluding to the same principles mentioned in several of the Old Testament Books: “uncircumcised hearts” (Leviticus 26:41), “circumcise the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16), “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendents, to love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6)  Also, Jeremiah speaks of the “uncircumcised ear” (Jeremiah 6:10), and Moses, speaking of himself, talks about “uncircumcised lips.” (Exodus 6:12 & 30)  It follows that a true believer is that person who has been spiritually circumcised (in other words, circumcision is not a matter of cutting flesh); this is the Christian who has become Christ’s, who worships God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and whose reliance is not on the flesh.


3- St. Paul is an example of transformation from righteousness of the Law, to right­eousness of the Faith (Philippians 3:5-11)

Here, St. Paul presents himself as an example of a different Jew, who knows what he is talking about.  He could have relied on the flesh, and boasted of his Jewish heritage, given that he possessed several justifying characteristics listed in Philippians 3:5 & 6.  He was an Israelite (a descendent of Jacob [Israel] – 2 Corinthians 11:22), he was of the tribe of Benjamin (the tribe of the ruling nobility, and the tribe from which came Saul, the first king of Israel – 1 Samuel 9:1 & 2; this tribe along with the tribe of Judah formed the nation returning from captivity), he was a Hebrew (unmixed with other races and retaining his mother tongue – Acts 21:40 & 22:2 and 2 Cor. 11:22), he was circumcised on the eighth day (a Jew by birth, practiced Jewish rites since his infancy – Genesis 17:12 & Leviticus 12:3); as far as the law was concerned, he was a Pharisee (quite knowledgeable in matters of the law – Acts 22:3, 23:6, 26:5 and Galatians 1:14); he was blameless with respect to righteousness in accordance with the law (in other words respecting all the requirements of the law); finally, he persecuted the Church out of zeal for the law (Acts 9:1-3, 22:3-5, 19, 20, 26:9-12, 1 Cor. 15:9, and Galatians 1:13,23).

Thus, St. Paul was no ordinary Jew; nevertheless, he counted all that would have been profitable to him as “loss for Christ.” (Phi. 3:7)  He even counts “all things loss” (however great they are) … in exchange for what? “….for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, [with no regrets] and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Phi. 3:8)  Put differently, if he were to weigh all what he had in his Jewish life (according to the law) against Christ, the balance would tip in Christ’s favor …

(To be continued)


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“Take up the cross and follow me”  (Mark 10:21)

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